What Is Industrial IoT?
Industrial IoT (IIoT) refers to the network of sensors and devices that are commonly used in manufacturing, energy, and processing to improve performance and efficiency. Industrial IoT is used for tasks such as the following:
- Smart mining
- Predictive maintenance
- Asset tracking
Companies use industrial IoT systems to gather information about the environment and their business processes in order to improve operational efficiency, orchestrate systems, and leverage automation.
Industrial IoT sensors collect data that is otherwise unmonitored, offline, or siloed off from other insights. For example, an industrial IoT sensor can continuously monitor fluid pressure and immediately send an alert or work order when the pressure drops below a certain threshold.
Many industrial IoT applications integrate into existing SCADA systems, allowing businesses to centralize their monitoring, access control, and data collection.
By continuously monitoring conditions through industrial IoT, businesses can prevent downtime, improve profitability, and increase their overall safety and efficiency. Industrial IoT systems are becoming increasingly popular, especially with the advent of 5G technology. Industries such as oil, electric, mining, and water treatment are currently using 5G networks to power vast networks of IIoT sensors and devices.
What’s the Difference Between IoT and IIoT?
IoT is marketed toward consumers and IIoT is designed for industrial use. The underlying technology is similar, but they have different use cases and performance.
For example, IoT light bulbs allow you to switch your lights on from your mobile phone. The lighting app might experience delays or have a vulnerability that could let your neighbor switch your light on. The consequences of this are small and inconvenient at worst.
Industrial IoT systems are designed to be much more robust and secure. A delay in sending alerts could put staff in danger, and a vulnerability could leave critical infrastructure exposed. IIoT systems are designed for security, scalability, and automation across industrial processes.
Examples of Industrial IoT
Industrial IoT might seem like technology from the future, but it’s already here in use today. Below are a few examples of how companies are using industrial IoT to improve their business.
Factories of the Future
Factories of the future are here today and include technology such as wearable IoT sensors, augmented reality smart glasses, and autonomous machines. Factories can use industrial IoT sensors to improve production while bolstering staff safety. For example, Volkswagen’s plant in Wolfsburg, Germany, uses robotics to perform more dangerous tasks such as tightening screws underneath suspended automobiles.
Augmented reality has also been used across factories and industrial plants to aid technicians during repairs. Smart glasses use a live overlay combined with wireless sensor data to help staff find where problems are in complex environments. These overlays also use live data from the sensors to aid in troubleshooting and provide root cause analysis.
Smart mining operations use the performance and coverage of 5G combined with Industrial IoT platforms to bolster staff safety, survey more accurately, and monitor site conditions. This combination of technology allows IIoT sensors to communicate across vast distances both above and below ground.
Wearable sensors can continuously monitor worker health metrics and location while strategically placed underground sensors keep tabs on air quality and seismic activity. In the United States, the mining company Joy Global has developed an industrial IoT system that sends 7,000 points of data per second back to their data center for processing.
Industrial IoT sensors are being used to track inventory, assets, and their conditions while in transit. For example, Bluetooth-powered smart packaging can automatically track components, inventory, and outbound shipments. Data gathered at this level can be transformed into business intelligence to generate expense reports and gauge operational performance.
While in transit, shipments can be tracked by logistic departments through public 5G networks to determine up-to-the-minute delivery times and track the status of their containers. For example, companies using industrial IoT sensors can monitor the temperature of their refrigerated trucks even when they're miles away.
How Does Industrial IoT Work?
At a high level, industrial IoT works by collecting environmental data, processing that data into insights, and then pairing those insights with automation or alerting systems.
Industrial IoT sensors are highly versatile and inexpensive—allowing businesses to deploy thousands of them across their environment. Metrics such as temperature, conductivity, air pressure, arm position, and fluid level can be monitored via specialized sensors.
IoT architecture relies on five layers to collect, send, transform, control, and understand IIoT data.
Perception - The perception layer includes the physical IIoT sensors and devices on the network. This can include sensors within the industrial plant as well as mobile sensors on vehicles and staff.
Transport - The transport layer moves the data collected from the IIoT sensor to a server for processing. Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Private / Public Cellular 4G/5G, and low-power WANs are popular mediums for transport. Organizations can use multiple transport protocols across their environment to meet their coverage, performance, and capacity requirements.
Processing - Processing is where raw data is translated into insights. This can take place on a server, edge device, or cloud environment. IIoT data processing is typically powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning that can make decisions based on statistical models or service levels. For example, a temperature sensor that breaches a certain threshold might trigger an automated response to kick on an air conditioning unit.
Application - The application layer is where humans interact and control the processing and transport layers. Typically these include dashboards for monitoring, scripts to run reports, and areas to set service levels and access controls.
Business - Lastly, the business layer is where industrial IoT insights are transformed into business intelligence. This information helps decision makers understand the inner workings of their processes and make better data-driven decisions. High-level insights are typically sent via API into a business intelligence platform or reported directly through the application layer.
Industrial IoT Challenges
Industrial IoT improves productivity, profitability, and safety across the workplace, but it isn’t without its challenges. As enterprise IIoT networks grow, so do their complexity, security challenges, and administrative tasks.
As industrial IoT networks grow their complexity can overwhelm administrators and make the business less efficient. IoT networks are flexible and can rely on a variety of cloud, edge, and transport technologies. Patching, access control, and company-wide policy changes become convoluted without centralized management.
Companies using multiple cloud vendors, edge computing platforms, and third-party software can find centralized management expensive and difficult to implement. If not configured properly, IIoT devices can lose data or go unpatched and become vulnerable to attack.
Industrial IoT systems have been the target of cyberattacks, both by domestic and foreign adversaries. With IIoT systems controlling our water supply, electrical grids, and pipelines, a single outage could impact millions of people.
Companies should research and vet IIoT sensor vendors to ensure their products are secure and legitimate. For some companies, keeping track of vulnerabilities, remediation, and the latest attack vectors can be resource intensive. However, the alternative is always more costly and damaging in the long run.
Not all industrial IoT sensors come with an application platform to process data. This can leave organizations searching for the right data platform to use. IIoT systems require IT departments with staff that can manage API connections, monitor their network and transport layers, and support end users as well as security teams. IIoT automation and insights are incredibly powerful but require a team to achieve.
The Future of Industrial IoT
Industrial IoT systems will continue to improve, especially through the use of private 5G networks. The new 5G LAN architecture combines the power and performance of 5G cellular with the control and reliability of a traditional LAN. This new model allows companies to untether their processes without having to rely on commercial carrier networks.
Advancements in IIoT processing have also come a long way in recent years. Today, an edgeless enterprise architecture can help companies centralize their security, management, and data collection across all of their distributed compute environments to accelerate network and application deployments. This new way of processing IoT data removes the complexity of traditional edge computing solutions and allows enterprises to scale more efficiently.
The Celona Solution
Celona partners with various industries to provide industrial IoT services as a seamless turnkey solution.
Celona’s plug-and-play cellular access point infrastructure can be quickly deployed throughout the facility, while proactive monitoring ensures network service level objectives, such as throughput and latency requirements, are consistently being met.
Celona uses cloud networking principles to make private 5G deployments an out-of-box experience. Onboarding can be done alongside existing wireless and IT infrastructure, without interrupting business operations.
If you’re building your business for the future, Celona can help. Check out our network planner to see what your network would look like on the private cellular spectrum, or test-drive the Celona Solution for yourself through our free trial or a custom demo.